How a Photograph Can Save a Species

Through his camera, Nick Brandt has shown the world the devastation of African poaching and deforestation. Through his foundation, he’s doing something about it.

To see Nick Brandt’s photographs—especially as they’re meant to be seen, so large you have to step back and look up—is to understand how deeply he cares about Africa’s wild animals. One arresting image shows a swooping line of rangers in uniform, each one glaring into the camera and standing between a set of ivory tusks that have been hacked from a poached elephant.

But Brandt is more than just a photographer, and his work is about more than just animals. In 2010, together with conservationist Richard Bonham, he formed the Big Life Foundation to fight poaching and protect 2 million acres in East Africa near Kilimanjaro. In its first 21⁄2 years, Big Life trained hundreds of new rangers, bringing good jobs to locals, and managed to arrest 1,030 poachers and confiscate 3,012 weapons along the Kenya-Tanzania border.

For his most recent photo project, “Inherit the Dust,” Brandt placed life-sized portraits of animals in urban wastelands— places that had once been the animals’ natural habitats—then photographed the grim scenes surrounding them. In one image, street kids sniff glue under a highway near a photo of elephants. “It’s important that viewers understand that people too are the victims of environmental devastation,” Brandt says. biglife.org